Skip to main content

tv   60 Minutes  CBS  October 16, 2016 6:00pm-7:00pm CDT

6:00 pm
for just forty-nine dollars a month on u.s. cellular's great network. captioning funded by cbs and ford. we go further, so you can. >> we have to stop the tremendous flow of syrian refugees into the united states. we don't know who they are... >> whitaker: donald trump has made it one of his biggest campaign issues: claiming syrians are coming into this country with no system to vet them. and with the rage of war, fearing isis will strike here in homeland, he's not alone. a majority of u.s. governors has called for a halt to the president's refugee program. we went to see for ourselves who these syrian refugees are and what kind of vetting they go through to get here. >> cooper: people would ask you? >> michael meeropol: oh, yeah, "are you related to those two
6:01 pm
>> cooper: hated yourself because you were... >> michael meeropol: i was denying... i was too scared to admit that my parents were my parents. >> cooper: being the rosenberg's children in 1950 was almost like being osama bin laden's kids here after 9/11. their parents were convicted and executed for being two of the most damaging spies ever. so why are the children speaking out now? because they have a message for president obama. >> i'm steve kroft. >> i'm leslie stahl. >> i'm bill whitaker. >> i'm anderson cooper. >> i'm scott pelley. those stories, tonight on "60 minutes." >> cbs money watch, sponsored by american express open. proud supporter of growing businesses. >> good evening. wells fargo is facing fallout from last month's banking scandal. new checking accounts and credit
6:02 pm
netflix, ibm and bank of america report earnings tomorrow, and workers at distilleries in kentucky are now on strike. i'm elaine quijano, cbs news. hey, evan. so, you're stuck at a work thing. with directv and at&t you can stream all your favorite shows without using your data. that makes you more powerful than a table for 60. wednesdays are the new thursdays! or the mandatory after party.
6:03 pm
oing anywhere. i'm not going anywhere. it's your tv, take it with you.
6:04 pm
man, i'm glad aflac pays cash. aflac! isn't major medical enough? no! who's gonna' help cover the holes in their plans? aflac! like rising co-pays and deductibles... aflac! or help pay the mortgage? or child care? aflaaac! and everyday expenses? aflac! learn about one day pay at aflac.com/boat
6:05 pm
>> whitaker: last september, president obama announced his goal of resettling 10,000 syrian refugees in the united states. a year later, almost 13,000 have been admitted, and more are coming. donald trump has said that tens of thousands of syrians, mostly young men, are entering the u.s. and we don't know who they are because we have no system to vet them. he has said many times he wants to stop all syrians from entering the country. he's not alone. a majority of u.s. governors have called for a halt to the refugee program, too. the syrians who are finding refuge in the u.s. now find themselves at the center of a heated debate, pitting our american tradition of altruism against our fear of terrorism. we wanted to see for ourselves
6:06 pm
is the vetting process. this is zaatari refugee camp in jordan, about seven miles from the syrian border. 80,000 syrian refugees living in tiny, steel boxes as far as the eye can see. the camp run by the u.n. sprang out of the jordanian desert in 2012 as millions of refugees poured out of syria. it's now the largest syrian refugee camp in the middle east. >> gina kassem: every refugee housing. >> whitaker: gina kassem oversees the refugee resettlement program in the middle east and north africa for the u.s. state department. she says the u.s. is now processing an additional 21,000 syrian refugee applications for relocation to the united states. >> kassem: mostly we focus on victims of torture, survivors of violence, women-headed households, a lot of severe medical cases. >> whitaker: kassem told us each
6:07 pm
the united states goes through a lengthy process of interviews and background checks. you know, there are many americans who n't trust government to fix the roads or run the schools. how can you convince them that this process is going to keep them safe? >> kassem: because they undergo so many steps of vetting, so many interviews, so many intelligence screenings, so many checks along the way. they're fleeing the terrorists who killed their family members, who destroyed their houses. these are the victims that we are helping through our program. >> whitaker: the war in syria has taken the lives of almost a half million people, leveled entire cities and created the largest refugee crisis since the end of world war ii. syria's neighbor, jordan, has been overwhelmed with nearly 1.5 million refugees in the camps and in the cities. any who can, make their way here, to the capital.
6:08 pm
the long road to the u.s. begins. everyday, thousands of syrian refugees line up here in amman, jordan, to register with the u.n. every single refugee is interviewed in detail multiple times by the u.n. for their vital statistics-- where they came from, who they know. their irises are scanned to establish their identity. and then, they wait for the chance the u.n. might refer them to the united states. less than 1% will get that ch for that 1%, the next step is this state department resettlement center in amman for a background check led by specially-trained department of homeland security interrogators. like all syrian refugees being vetted, this family was questioned at least three times by interviewers looking for gaps or inconsistencies in their stories. all that information is then run though u.s. security databases
6:09 pm
to be a refugee in jordan is to be patient. the u.s. security check goes on an average of 18-24 months. ( speaking arabic ) those who pass are told to pack up for their new life in the united states. this family had just been told they are moving to chicago, illinois. what are you feeling right now? >> wife: i am afraid. we don't know anything. >> whitaker: just before they go, they are given a crash course on life in the u.s., america 101. >> teacher: english, education or experience. >> whitaker: most know l about where they are moving. those we spoke to didn't really care. they know exactly what they are leaving behind. we met sulaf and her 15-year-old daughter, joody, in amman this past august. so, now, you're going to the united states. do you know where? >> sulaf: north carolina. >> whitaker: what do you know about north carolina? >> sulaf: i don't know. ( laughs )
6:10 pm
nice city. >> whitaker: sulaf was an elementary school teacher back in homs, syria; her husband, a dentist. she says they had a good life until syrian president assad's forces turned their lives into a living hell. she says they would hear the sounds of other buildings collapsing, and they would tell themselves, "we're next." she started giving her kids sleeping pills so they could sleep. sulaf's daughter, joody, was ten years old at the time. you remember all this? >> joody: everything. i remember it like it was yesterday. it was very scary. we cannot go to the... to the school. most of my friends death. >> whitaker: most of your friends are dead? >> joody: yes. >> whitaker: sulaf says she is lucky she made it to jordan alive with her family and her parents. she has one sister in bombed out aleppo, another in isis- controlled territory. but jordan is where her husband ahmad's luck ran out. he was found to have lou
6:11 pm
2014. her youngest son, malaz, was diagnosed with autism but the family couldn't find treatment. this past august, sulaf was cleared by homeland security to travel to the u.s. it was just in time. she was considering taking her family on the treacherous journey to europe by boat, in order to get malaz the help he needs. she told us, if she tried to cross the ocean to europe and they made it, they made it; if they died, they died. there's no difference between death and life in this place. she says she can't work, she can't educate her children, she has no opportunity. so, a new life in america is your only hope? >> sulaf: yeah. yeah. exactly. >> whitaker: we met ekbal and his wife eman in their apartment in jordan this past august as they were preparing to leave for the u.s.
6:12 pm
daraa, syria, before the war. he says he was arrested and tortured, accused of being a foreign spy by assad's forces just for watching a protest outside his store. you said that the men who arrested you said, "no one will know what happened to you." "you believe that the best possible option is that you die quickly," he said. you felt that it might be better if you were to die. "death is mercy at this point." when ekbal was released, the family fled syria. after a nearly two-year vetting process, they were cleared by u.s. homeland security. last month, they moved into this empty apartment in riverdale, maryland. they say it's lonely, but ekbal has figured out the local bus... >> ekbal: i want this. >> whitaker: ...and just got a part-time job at the local 7-11. opening our doors to refugees like ekbal is a proud part of
6:13 pm
year, when paris was attacked by isis fighters killing 130 civilians, many americans wanted to slam the doors shut. a syrian passport was found on one of the suicide bombers, who had entered europe with the flood of syrian refugees. that prompted 31 u.s. governors to call for a complete halt to the syrian refugee program. georgia's republican governor, nathan deal, went further and signed an executive order denying state services to syrian fu it turned out that bomber wasn't syrian after all; he was part of a sophisticated isis plot to get radicals into europe. but it cast a shadow of suspicion over all syrian refugees. mohammad, his wife ebtesam and son hasan were among the first syrian refugees to arrive in the u.s. they settled in georgia just weeks after the attacks in paris. "at first, i was worried," he
6:14 pm
no way i would be mistreated in this country because this is a country of laws." mohammad and his family were sponsored by the johnson ferry baptist church in deep republican marietta, georgia, just outside atlanta. >> pastor wright: in romans chapter 13, it's very clear that... >> whitaker: with governor deal banning services, the church stepped in to support the family. senior pastor byrant wright, a former president of the southern baptist convention... >> pastor wright: the concern, immigrants. >> whitaker: ...found himself in a political firestorm, at odds with the governor, a man he voted for. >> pastor wright: well, see, our calling, bill, is far higher to follow christ and do what christ teaches us to do than whether there's an "r" or a "d" behind your name. and that's what we've got to live by, far more than what people are hearing on talk radio, or on the news or from political candidates. >> whitaker: wright wrote a
6:15 pm
did he respond? >> pastor wright: no, he didn't respond. >> whitaker: governor deal didn't respond to "60 minutes," either. last december, he was forced to withdraw his ban when georgia's attorney general found it to be illegal. since then, this christian church, working with u.s. refugee resettlement agencies world relief and lutheran services, has gone on to sponsor seven more muslim families from syria. in july, mohammad, ebtesam and hasan welcomed their cousin nouras and his family of six. >> volunteer: welcome to your new home. >> whitaker: here in the atlanta area, volunteers and case workers help newcomers from the beginning, getting them settled into new homes... >> good. >> whitaker: ...and teaching them to use an a.t.m. >> you're cleaning your room. >> right. >> whitaker: the refugees are given english tutoring and help finding jobs. this past summer, mohammod was
6:16 pm
he's working at a catering company owned by a church member. hassan has started kindergarten, and slowly they say they are starting to feel at home here. >> ebtesam: i feeling this country, my country. >> mohammad: my country, yes. >> whitaker: pastor wright told us he is isn't nai?ve about the potential risks of allowing in syrian refugees. >> pastor wright: the government has decided 10,000 syrian refugees are coming. that's not our decision. isn't it better to reach out and love these folks than to give them the cold shoulder? which approach do you think might cause a muslim refugee to be more sympathetic to islamic terrorism? which approach? to me, it's a no-brainer. >> whitaker: for many members of congress, faith in the government's ability to properly vet refugees is misguided. >> paul ryan: when we know that isil is already telling us that they are trying to infiltrate the refugee population, don't
6:17 pm
dictates we should take a pause and get this right? >> whitaker: can you tell the american people that this vetting is safe? >> jeh johnson: i can tell the american people it is probably the most cumbersome, thorough vetting process by which any immigrant comes into the united states. >> whitaker: secretary of homeland security jeh johnson told us the situation in the u.s. is vastly different from europe, which saw its borders flooded with unvetted refugees. >> johnson: if we don't feel we know enough about you, we're not going to admit you. >> whitaker: out of all the people you're letting in, how... how many are being denied? >> johnson: thousands have been denied admission to this country, and an even larger number who are on hold. >> whitaker: there is no known case of a syrian refugee being involved in any terror plot in the united states, but in 2009, the u.s. missed this iraqi
6:18 pm
been an insurgent fighting u.s. forces. he and another iraqi refugee were then caught in kentucky trying to buy a stinger missile to kill u.s. soldiers in iraq. how does this guy walk into america? >> johnson: with every case from years ago, there should be lessons learned. >> whitaker: things have changed... >> johnson: things have changed... >> whitaker: ...since then? >> johnson we have, on my watch, added social media and other checks, consulting additional databases. we've added those checks in the face of the worldwide refugee crisis that we see right now. >> whitaker: last month, sulaf and her children flew from jordan to their new home in cary, north carolina. she says it took 18 months of security checks for her to make it here. she's now learning to navigate an american grocery store... >> sulaf: potatoes? >> volunteer: potatoes inside?
6:19 pm
>> volunteer: there may be an opportunity. >> whitaker: ...and is anxious to find a job. their new life in america isn't easy, but for the first time in a long time, sulaf says she has hope. >> sulaf: and on behalf for me and my kids, i... i would like thanks for peop... american people and american government for this chance. and thank you very, very, very much. and ours... save our childn. ?
6:20 pm
? one smart choice leads to the next. ? ? the new 2017 ford si ihere. it's the beauty of a well-made choice. ? want longer lasting heartburn relief? try...duo fusion duo fusion goes to work in seconds and lasts up to 12 hours. tums only lasts up to 3. for longer lasting relief...in one chewable tablet try duo fusion from the makers of zantac i have no idea what's in this seaweed wrap. but with this usp seal i know exactly what's in my nature made gummies. nature made has the first gummy certified by usp. a non profit organization that sets purity and potency standards. ?
6:21 pm
? ? ? woman: it's been a journey to get where i am. and i didn't get here alone.
6:22 pm
people who gave me options. kept me on track. and through it all, my retirement never got left behind. so today, i'm prepared for anything we may want tomorrow to be. every someday needs a plan. let's talk about your old 401(k) today. >> cooper: before he leaves office, president obama will have to sort through more than 13,000 petitions from federal
6:23 pm
reduced sentences. but one of the most unusual requests he has been asked to consider concerns two people who were already executed more than 60 years ago. it was called "the crime of the century." in 1953, julius and ethel rosenberg were sent to the electric chair for conspiring to provide the secrets of the atomic bomb to the soviet union. they left behind two little boys, robert and michael, just six and ten years old at the time. orphans of communist spies at the height of the mccarthy era. relatives were afraid to take them in. one town blocked them from attending its schools. what ever happened to those two little boys? they're the ones asking president obama to proclaim that their mother was wrongfully convicted. it's a remarkable story, a piece of american history that hasn't been fully told. people would ask you? >> michael meeropol: oh, yeah, "are you related to those two
6:24 pm
>> cooper: hated yourself because you were... >> michael meeropol: i was denying... i was too scared to admit that my parents were my parents. >> robert meeropol: we were the children of communist spies. >> cooper: being the rosenberg's children in 1950 was almost like being osama bin laden's kids here after 9/11. today, they're known by their adopted names, michael and robert meeropol; but in 1950, they were michael and robby rosenberg, ages seven and three, east side with their parents, julius and ethel rosenberg. the rosenbergs were ardent communists, but michael doesn't recall his parents ever using that word. ethel was a stay-at-home mom who loved to sing; julius, an engineer who ran a small machine shop. that's michael on his shoulders. >> michael meeropol: my father would take me to places like prospect park and, you know, get some peanuts and feed squirrels. >> cooper: what was he like?
6:25 pm
he had a smile on his face a heck of a lot of times. and i remember traveling around with him. in fact, i rode on the subway with him so often that i kind of wondered, you know, when he was working. >> cooper: and your mom? what was she like? >> michael meeropol: she was very affectionate, a lot of hugging and kissing. and i remember that she was often cooking. the thing i remember is just a normal life. >> cooper: but then, in the summer of 1950, f.b.i. agents began rounding up a network of alleged communist spies. on jy >> michael meeropol: i'm listening to "the lone ranger," and the door opens, and there is all these people in the room, who, you know, i guess, friends of daddy's. but then, my mother yells, "i had... i want a lawyer," and i knew something was weird. and then the radio's turned off. well, i'm a brash seven-year- old, and i turned it back on. somebody turned it off again. after about three times, i gave up because, you know, the attention was on my father, and
6:26 pm
>> cooper: julius was accused of running a spy ring that tried to help the soviet union make an atomic bomb. after he refused to talk to the f.b.i., ethel was arrested, too. >> michael meeropol: all i remember is, i'm on the phone with her, and she says, "i'm under arrest." and i say, "you can't come home?" she says, "no, i can't." and i don't remember anything else about the phone call, but the story is that i screamed and that it gave her nightmares for the rest of her life. >> cooper: that scream? >> michael meeropol: yeah. it >> cooper: their grandmother put them up for a few months, but michael and robby say she resented their presence. when other relatives refused to care for them, they were sent to a children's shelter in the bronx. why didn't other family members take you in? >> robert meeropol: they were terrified. like, for instance, my father's older sister wanted to take us in, but her husband owned a small-grocery store, and he said, "if people find out i've taken in the children of the
6:27 pm
from my store." >> cooper: so, then, you're sent, essentially, to an orphanage? >> michael meeropol: yeah. >> cooper: what was that like? >> michael meeropol: i remember it as horrible, like something out of dickens. the staff was pretty free with the slaps and the abuse. i felt like i was in prison. >> cooper: you felt like you were in prison, as well, not just... >> michael meeropol: yeah. oh, absolutely. >> cooper: ...your parents? >> michael meeropol: one week after i was there, i remember crying to anybody i would talk. i said, "i've been here a week. don't you think they could let me go home now?" against their parents was their uncle, david greenglass, who'd worked at the military's atomic bomb-making plant in los alamos, new mexico. in march 1951, greenglass testified he'd given sketches of the atomic bomb to julius rosenberg, and that ethel had typed up his handwritten notes. david greenglass' wife ruth told the same story under oath. it took the jury only eight hours to reach a verdict. >> one of the greatest peacetime spy dramas in the nation's
6:28 pm
>> cooper: the judge sentenced the rosenbergs to death, saying he considered their crime worse than murder, because he believed they'd put the atomic bomb in soviet hands earlier than anyone had expected. while their lawyers appealed the decision, the rosenbergs were taken to new york's sing sing prison to await execution. robby and michael, now four and eight years old, hadn't seen their parents for a year, but they were allowed to visit them at sing sing. i heard that you asked to the electric chair? >> michael meeropol: yep. the very first visit, i said to a guard, "let me see the electric chair." >> cooper: why did you want to see the electric chair? >> michael meeropol: i didn't want to see the electric chair. i wanted to prove to the people at the prison i wasn't afraid of it. >> robert meeropol: i remember that the prison seemed like a big fortress that we were entering, this gray stone building, almost medieval-like. but when we went into the visiting room, everything was kind of quiet and calm, which is
6:29 pm
and i think that's because my parents made a conscious effort to try to act that way. and so, you could say that they fooled me, and i wanted to be fooled. ( laughs ) >> michael meeropol: i remember asking them both in sing sing if they were innocent. i said, "are you really innocent?" and they reacted, "but of course we are," you know? and that was enough for me for, you know, decades. >> cooper: but it wasn't enough for the supreme court, which denied the rosenbergs' appeal. never before in the u.s. had a husband and wife been sentenced to the electric chair, which would make their children orphans. the rosenbergs' supporters held protests all over the world, arguing the couple was innocent and the sentence unjust. albert einstein, pablo picasso and the pope appealed for clemency. days before the scheduled execution, michael and robby joined demonstrators in washington, d.c., and hand- delivered a plea for mercy to the white house. but president eisenhower refused
6:30 pm
on june 16, 1953, nearly three years after their parents had been arrested, the boys visited them at sing sing for the last time. >> michael meeropol: and as i was leaving, i started to wail, "one more day to live, one more day to live." >> cooper: you actually said that? >> michael meeropol: oh, yeah, absolutely. it was terrible, you know? but it was... it was honest. i mean, basically, i was pissed off because they were kissing us goodbye like, "see you next time." and i thought, you know, "they... they should take... make... a more big deal about forever." >> cooper: the attorney general said the couple could still save themselves by providing information to investigators, but julius and ethel rosenberg remained united in silence. as the hours of execution approached, reporters converged on the prison and protestors gathered near new york's union square. robby and michael, now six and ten years old, stayed at the home of a family friend in new jersey, playing baseball and hoping for a last minute
6:31 pm
catch till it was too dark to see the ball. and when i came in, i asked the adults what happened, and they wouldn't tell me. they just said, "we listened to every radio station. they all said the same thing." and so i knew. i got hugged by the woman who we were staying with, and she said, "you'll stay with us." and i said, "yeah, i guess i will." and they said, "let's keep it from robby." and so, i kept it from him for a week. >> cooper: for a week? >> michael meeropol: yeah. well, i couldn't, i just couldn't... for one reason or another, i just couldn't go on with the charade. >> cooper: do you remember exactly what you said? >> michael meeropol: yeah, because he was talking about, "when mommy and daddy come home." and i said, "oh, come on, let's tell him. rob, robby"-- he was always robby-- "mommy and daddy aren't coming home. they're dead." >> cooper: do you remember what he said? >> michael meeropol: he acted as if he didn't understand. >> robert meeropol: i think i've had to work my entire life at reacting to bad news, because my
6:32 pm
comes is to pretend like it's not that bad somehow. and, you know, if you can do that with your parents being executed, you can do that with almost anything. >> cooper: the rosenbergs' supporters viewed them as martyrs persecuted for their communist belief, but to the vast majority of americans, julius and ethel rosenberg were atomic spies and traitors. many believed they deserved to die. >> michael meeropol: when my parents were killed, an... a staying, and it said, "of course you feel for the loss of your parents, but when you think of all the boys they killed in korea, you must realize that justice was done. why don't you change your names and become christians?" >> cooper: and you remember the words to this day? >> michael meeropol: well, those are the kind of words that you don't forget. >> cooper: in so many of the photos of you both at that time, your brother is... his arm is around you or both arms are around you, like he's protecting you.
6:33 pm
rather than sibling rivalry, it was more of, like, the two of us against the world. >> cooper: who do you think this was harder on, you or robby? >> michael meeropol: i think it probably was much harder on robby, because three years with my parents, what are his memories? he has very little to grab onto. >> robert meeropol: i think it was harder on him. i think he had a tremendous sense of responsibility for me, and he understood more. >> cooper: it had been quite a while since anything good had happened to the rosenberg boys, their parents' funeral, they were introduced to anne and abel meeropol, teachers who were supporters of the rosenbergs. they took michael and robby into their home, and eventually adopted them. >> michael meeropol: introducing the meeropol family, robby meeropol and yours truly! ? this land is your land, this land is my land... ? >> cooper: the meeropols became your parents? >> michael meeropol: absolutely. totally. >> cooper: they changed your life?
6:34 pm
they saved our lives. >> robert meeropol: within a few months of living with them, i was calling them mommy and daddy. >> cooper: was it your choice to take their name? >> robert meeropol: well, i was too young to really have a choice, but it made us more anonymous, and that was a good thing. >> michael meeropol: as michael and robby meeropol, they eventually went to college, got married and started raising families of their own. >> robert meeropol: i think it's no accident that both of us got married when we were young, that we both had two kids, just like as early as we could, we recreated the family that was torn apart. >> cooper: michael meeropol became an economics professor; robert, a lawyer and founder of a charity called the rosenberg fund for children. they lived relatively normal lives. but for many years, most of the people they interacted with each day had no idea they were the children of julius and ethel rosenberg. >> robert meeropol: essentially, i was in the closet from when i
6:35 pm
everybody who didn't already know. >> cooper: you were worried about letting the world know who you were? >> robert meeropol: yeah, i was, because whenever... when the world knew who i was, it was very bad. terrible things happened. >> cooper: more than 20 years after their parents' execution, the brothers decided to step back into the limelight and reinvestigate the rosenberg case. what they discovered, when we come back. >> this cbs sports update is brought to you by ford. i'm james brown with scores from the nfl today. beckham's 66-ar touchdown sealed the win for the giants over the ravens. matt jones scored as washington won its fourth straight. rob gronkowski had a career high 162 yards receiving in the
6:36 pm
and four scores on the ground to crush the 49ers. k.c. snapped oakland's three-game win streak. for more sports news, go to cbssports.com. ? one smart choice leads to the next. ? the new 2017 ford fusion is here. it's the beauty of a well-made choice. ? ? ? ? ? he has a sharp wit. a winning smile. and no chance of getting an athletic scholarship.
6:37 pm
tv-commercial
6:38 pm
i'm chuck grassley, and i approve this message. my dad raised thirteen children, and fought for our country in world war ii. but, he never got his medals and he tried for years. dad knew his time was near. out of options, he finally called senator grassley's office. they got dad his medals.
6:39 pm
6:40 pm
>> cooper: before julius and ethel rosenberg were executed for conspiring to provide atomic secrets to the soviet union, ethel wrote a letter to their sons, michael and robby, saying, "always remember that we were innocent." so, perhaps it's not surprising that when the boys grew up, they wanted to try to clear their parents' names. what is surprising is how much new information they and independent historians have been able to uncover over the years-- secret messages, intercepted cables, long-forgotten files from the archives of the f.b.i., the c.i.a. and the k.g.b. the new information has changed the way this chapter of american history is viewed, which is why the brothers are now asking president obama to exonerate their mother. the little boys who disappeared from public view after their parents were executed in 1953 re-emerged as grown men in 1975, determined to uncover new
6:41 pm
they sued the f.b.i. and the c.i.a. under the freedom of information act, seeking full access to the government's files on julius and ethel rosenberg. >> robert meeropol: the government files represent the largest body of primary evidence on my parents' case in existence. we are not afraid of what is in them. why is the government afraid? what are they trying to cover up? >> cooper: did you think you might be able to prove your parents' innocence? >> michael meeropol: oh, absolutely. i was absolutely convinced that we would find >> cooper: you were sure they were innocent? >> robert meeropol: as sure as one and one equal two. >> cooper: they formed a committee to re-examine the rosenberg case. ron radosh was among the first to sign up. at the time, he was an author and activist, highly sympathetic to the rosenbergs' cause and eager to help. >> radosh: by then, i had a ph.d. in history, and i believed my expertise as a historian enabled me to want to go through all these files that i expected would prove their innocence.
6:42 pm
started going through the f.b.i. files, he realized he was wrong. julius rosenberg had been a soviet spy and a zealous recruiter of others. >> radosh: i was stunned. it became readily apparent that this was not people who were arrested because they opposed the korean war or whatever, because they wanted peace. >> cooper: essentially... >> radosh: so... >> cooper: ...julius rosenberg's job was as a recruiter of others? he was... >> radosh: right, he... >> cooper: ...developing a network... >> radosh: ...ran a network. he put it together and handled them all. >> cooper: in 1983, ron radosh co-wrote a book outlining the new evidence that julius rosenberg was guilty. how did the meeropols and others on the left respond? >> radosh: horrendously. i mean, i was ostracized, attacked. >> cooper: people stopped speaking to you? >> radosh: yeah. i had phone calls in the middle of the night, death threats, the usual thing. i mean... and we lost, actually lost good friends, very good friends who no longer... stopped talking to us, and to this day. >> cooper: to this day? >> radosh: oh, absolutely.
6:43 pm
their father was guilty. they finally acknowledged it in 2008, when their parents' co- defendant, morty sobell, admitted for the first time he had been part of julius rosenberg's spy ring. was there any part of you that was disappointed in your father? >> michael meeropol: no. no. not at all. >> cooper: not disappointed that he actually did commit espionage? >> michael meeropol: i... i'll speak for myself. no, i... i didn't. >> robert meeropol: you know, for years, we were saying our parents were innocent lambs come to the realization that, instead, they were knowing political actors who made decisions based upon their beliefs, i actually found that to be more palatable. i didn't want them to just be victims. >> cooper: but your father was breaking u.s. law... >> michael meeropol: absolutely. >> cooper: ...to do this. so... >> michael meeropol: yeah, he was. >> robert meeropol: and i think that if he'd been arrested and
6:44 pm
sentence, we would have nothing to complain about. >> cooper: there's now plenty of evidence that julius rosenberg's spy network stole important technology for jet fighters, radar and detonators, but the one thing he and his spies didn't do a very good job of stealing was atomic secrets, the heart of the prosecutors' case. most historians agree that the soviets got the most important atomic bomb-making information from los alamos scientists klaus fuchs and theodore hall, who belonged to a different russian spy ring. the los alamos informant julius was accused of recruiting, ethel's brother david greenglass, was a machinist, not a scientist. when a copy of the sketch greenglass said he drew for the soviets was made public in 1966, nuclear scientists were not impressed. >> michael meeropol: 1966, top scientists look at it, and they make it clear that this thing is a secret of nothing. it's got no dimensions in it. it's got errors in it. >> cooper: newspapers called
6:45 pm
atomic spies," and the judge sentenced them to death for putting the atomic bomb in the hands of the soviet union, but there's ample evidence the u.s. government knew at the time that the information david greenglass gave to the soviets was of minor value. the prosecutors knew the information the rosenbergs had access to was not the... the crown jewels of the atomic world? >> radosh: yes, but they were pushing for a prosecution without using the hardest evidence they could... they had. couldn't be used. >> cooper: that's because in the been secretly intercepting soviet messages, and it didn't want the soviets to know it had broken their code. so, instead, prosecutors pressured david greenglass and his wife ruth to testify against julius and ethel rosenberg. michael and robby argue that prosecutors framed their mother by inventing evidence that she typed up david greenglass' notes on the atomic bomb. >> greenglass: where do i sit? right there? >> yes, sir. >> cooper: in 2001, half a
6:46 pm
his sister typed up his notes, david greenglass told "60 minutes'" correspondent bob simon, it was a lie. >> simon: so, ethel finally went to the electric chair on the basis of evidence that was false. >> greenglass: false. >> cooper: he said he did it to save himself and his wife, and he showed little remorse. >> greenglass: we're still here. i didn't have to go away. nobody killed me, and i survived. >> simon: your sister didn't. >> greenglass: you know, i'd like to say something. i would not sacrifice my wife and my children for my sister. how do you like that? my wife is more important to me than my sister. >> cooper: greenglass said he was pressed to give this false testimony by one of the prosecutors in the case, roy cohn, who would go on to become senator joseph mccarthy's right- hand man and was later disbarred for unethical conduct. >> simon: did cohn encourage you to testify that you saw ethel
6:47 pm
>> greenglass: of course he did. >> cooper: as a reward for their testimony against the rosenbrgs, david greenglass got a reduced sentence, and his wife ruth, who had served as a soviet courier, never spent a day in prison. prosecutors believed the prospect of ethel dying in the electric chair would force julius rosenberg to confess and name other soviet spies. >> michael meeropol: in the case of my mother, she really is collateral damage, you know. this is... this is the government trying... putting a julie, "talk or we'll kill her." >> cooper: you don't think she was involved at all? >> michael meeropol: we don't believe that, and, in fact, we believe that the evidence has virtually proved that. >> cooper: after david and ruth greenglass died, their testimony to a grand jury before the rosenbergs' trial was unsealed. there was no mention of ethel rosenberg typing up david greenglass' notes, and when those soviet messages the u.s. had been secretly decoding were publicly released, they showed the soviets had never given
6:48 pm
in 1997, when julius rosenberg's former soviet handler, alexander feklisov, went public with tales of julius' spy missions for the soviet union, feklisov had this to say about ethel rosenberg: >> feklisov: ethel never worked for us. she didn't do anything. >> cooper: based on this information, robert and michael meeropol have launched a campaign to clear their mother's name. they got 13 members of the new york city council to issue a proclamation declaring the government wrongfully executed ethel rosenberg. >> robert meeropol: it is time for the federal government to step up and do the same. >> cooper: they've launched an online petition drive, calling on president obama to exonerate their mother before he leaves office. but historian ron radosh says, based on the documents he's seen, that would be a mistake. >> radosh: she was an accessory to spying by helping, identifying people, urging people to be re... recruited,
6:49 pm
be recruited. this is aiding those who are spying. it's aiding and abetting. >> cooper: you're saying even though she wasn't as involved as her husband... >> radosh: right. >> cooper: ...she still engaged in a conspiracy. >> radosh: yes. she considered herself a friend of the soviet union, was doing... helping her husband in his valuable work. >> cooper: so, the trial was not fair, but that doesn't mean the rosenbergs were innocent. >> radosh: right. right. you could say, if you want to say those who say the rosenbergs were framed, they framed guilty people. >> cooper: but you are injustice when it comes to ethel in terms of the death penalty? >> radosh: yes. yeah. compared to the others, she was of minimal importance. she should not have been executed. the government did it as a mechanism of leverage, hoping that would push julius to talk. it didn't work, and i think they were shocked that it didn't work. i th... they all thought julius would break and cooperate. >> cooper: when judge kaufman
6:50 pm
more than their children. do you think that's true? >> radosh: yes. unfortunately, i would agree with that. yes. otherwise, how could they have done what they did? >> cooper: you've said that your mother was a hostage who was killed when your father wouldn't talk. isn't it true, though, that she could have told investigators everything she knew and lived? >> robert meeropol: both our parents could've saved themselves. >> michael meeropol: no question. >> robert meeropol: the f.b.i. agents who've written memoirs in which they said, "we didn't want them to die, we wanted them to talk." >> cooper: after your father had been executed, could she have then... >> michael meeropol: absolutely. >> cooper: ...last minute... >> michael meeropol: exac... >> cooper: ...said, "you know what? i'll tell you everything i know"? >> michael meeropol: absolutely. in fact, we know that the rabbi came to her cell after witnessing our father's execution and said, "julius is gone, and, you know, you have two children. and if there's anything you can say-- a name, even a false name, just anything, you know, to save yourself." and allegedly, she said to the
6:51 pm
i'm innocent, and i'm ready." >> robert meeropol: ultimately, they couldn't betray each other. they couldn't and they would not betray each other. and that would've been the ultimate betrayal. >> cooper: do you feel she betrayed you? >> robert meeropol: not at all. >> cooper: the judge said, "your parents loved their cause more than their own children," which is certainly a very cruel thing to say. >> robert meeropol: and it's not true. >> cooper: you don't believe by... >> robert meeropol: i don't. >> cooper: ...by choosing to die didn't prove the judge right? >> robert meeropol: no, i don't think they did. if you were interviewing us in a psychiatric ward, then you might say, "yeah, they... they damaged us by what they did." >> cooper: to you, exoneration would mean what? is it political or is it personal? >> michael meeropol: both. >> robert meeropol: oh, it's both. our mother was killed for something she did not do. she was taken away from us.
6:52 pm
but the fact that the government facilitated the invention of evidence in order to convict someone of a capital crime, that is something that should concern everybody. >> what was home to the rosenberg brothers was a den of spies to the f.b.i. >> that's where your dad was arrested. >> yes. >> go to 60minutesovertime.com sponsored by prevnar 13. my friends think doing this at my age is scary. i say not if you protect yourself. what is scary? pneumococcal pneumonia. it's a serious disease. my doctor said the risk is greater now that i'm over 50! yeah...ya-ha... just one dose of the prevnar 13? vaccine can help protect you from pneumococcal pneumonia- an illness that can cause coughing, chest pain, difficulty breathing,
6:53 pm
elp prevent infections from 13 strains of the bacteria that cause pneumococcal pneumonia. you should not receive prevnar 13? if you have had a severe allergic reaction to the vaccine or its ingredients. if you have a weakened immune system, you may have a lower response to the vaccine. the most common side effects were pain, redness, and swelling at the injection site, limited arm movement, fatigue, headache, muscle pain, joint pain, less appetite, vomiting, fever, chills, and rash. get this one done! ask about prevnar 13? at your next visit to your here's the plan. you grow up wanting to be a lawyer, because your dad's a lawyer. and you land a job with a 401k and meet your wife. you're surprised how much you both want kids, and equally surprised you can't have them. so together, you adopt a little boy... and then his two brothers... and you up your life insurance because four people depend on you now. then, one weekend, when everyone has a cold and you've spent the whole day watching tv, you realize that you didn't plan for any of this, but you wouldn't have done it any other way.
6:54 pm
[ ping! ] the new iphone's finally here! and you can get it on any network. but why would you? u.s. cellular's got a great new plan, and we put towers where the other guys didn't --
6:55 pm
is that you? 'cause like i said: u.s. cellular's signal is strong. so you might want to put your new iphone on silent. mother: hi, honey. it's your mother. -dude. -why is it so dark? at last, get the new iphone with a great deal -- seven gigs of data per line for just forty-nine dollars a month on u.s. cellular's great network. for just forty-nine dollars a month vernon: i'm monica vernon, and i approve this message. congressman blum's smear campaign -- misleading and false. the truth -- monica vernon donated every pay raise to charity and helped build a homeless shelter but multi-millionaire blum promised he'd take only half his salary. then in congress, blum broke his word and kept all the pay. now he wants to cut social security and raise the retirement age.
6:56 pm
>> whitaker: now, an update on a story we first broadcast in december, 2004. that's when our late colleague, ed bradley, interviewed bob dylan, who won the nobel prize for literature on thursday. it was the reclusive dylan's first broadcast interview in 19 years, and he had a lot to say about his life, his fame and especially his music and lyrics. >> bradley: i've read somewhere that you wrote "blowin' in the wind" in ten minutes. is that right? >> dylan: probably. >> bradley: just like that? >> dylan: yeah. >> bradley: where'd it come from? >> dylan: it just came. it came from, like, right out of that wellspring of creativity, i would think, you know? >> bradley: do you ever look at music that you've written and look back at it and say, "oh, that surprised me"? >> dylan: i used to.
6:57 pm
those songs. >> bradley: what do you mean, you don't know how? >> dylan: those early songs were, like, almost magically written. >> whitaker: at the end of that story, 12 years ago, ed bradley reported dylan had been nominated for the nobel prize. now, he has won it. i'm bill whitaker. we'll be back next week with another edition of "60 minutes." and tomorrow, be sure to watch
6:58 pm
6:59 pm
7:00 pm
? ? ? you call me to tell me what's up with you ? ? huh? ? ? we're living on top of the world, it seems ? ? way up here in a higher place ? whoa. uh-huh. you've got to be kidding me. whew. (indistinct chatter) ? oh, clouds that i keep falling through ? do you think anyone here knows it's only thursday? dude, i don't think anyone here cares that it's only thursday. who are these people? i don't know. oh. (laughing) how you ladies doing? hey. happy thursday.

34 Views

info Stream Only

Uploaded by TV Archive on